Scientific publications

Neoantigens as potential vaccines in hepatocellular carcinoma

Feb 24, 2022 | Magazine: Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer

David Repáraz  1   2   3 , Marta Ruiz  1   2   3 , Diana Llopiz  1   2   3 , Leyre Silva  1   2   3 , Enric Vercher  1   2   3 , Belén Aparicio  1   2   3 , Josune Egea  1   2   3 , Ibon Tamayo-Uria  1   2   3 , Sandra Hervás-Stubbs  1   2   3 , Jorge García-Balduz  1 , Carla Castro  1 , Mercedes Iñarrairaegui  2   3   4 , Maria Tagliamonte  5 , Angela Mauriello  5 , Beatrice Cavalluzzo  5 , Luigi Buonaguro  5 , Charlotte Rohrer  6 , Kathrin Heim  6   7 , Catrin Tauber  6 , Maike Hofmann  6 , Robert Thimme  6 , Bruno Sangro  2   3   4 , Pablo Sarobe  8   2   3

Background: Neoantigens, new immunogenic sequences arising from tumor mutations, have been associated with response to immunotherapy and are considered potential targets for vaccination. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a moderately mutated tumor, where the neoantigen repertoire has not been investigated.

Our aim was to analyze whether tumors in HCC patients contain immunogenic neoantigens suitable for future use in therapeutic vaccination.

Methods: Whole-exome sequencing and RNAseq were performed in a cohort of fourteen HCC patients submitted to surgery or liver transplant. To identify mutations, single-nucleotide variants (SNV) originating non-synonymous changes that were confirmed at the RNA level were analyzed.

Immunogenicity of putative neoAgs predicted by HLA binding algorithms was confirmed by using in vitro HLA binding assays and T-cell stimulation experiments, the latter in vivo, by immunizing HLA-A*02.01/HLA-DRB1*01 (HHD-DR1) transgenic mice, and in in vitro, using human lymphocytes.

Results: Sequencing led to the identification of a median of 1217 missense somatic SNV per patient, narrowed to 30 when filtering by using RNAseq data. A median of 13 and 5 peptides per patient were predicted as potential binders to HLA class I and class II molecules, respectively. Considering only HLA-A*02.01- and HLA-DRB1*01-predicted binders, 70% demonstrated HLA-binding capacity and about 50% were immunogenic when tested in HHD-DR1 mice.

These peptides induced polyfunctional T cells that specifically recognized the mutated but not the wild-type sequence as well as neoantigen-expressing cells. Moreover, coimmunization experiments combining CD8 and CD4 neoantigen epitopes resulted in stronger CD8 T cell responses. Finally, responses against neoantigens were also induced in vitro using human cells.

Conclusion: These results show that mutations in HCC tumors may generate immunogenic neoantigens with potential applicability for future combinatorial therapeutic strategies.

CITATION  J Immunother Cancer. 2022 Feb;10(2):e003978. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-003978

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